A Washington, DC judge on Friday ordered members of the Proud Boys to pay more than $1 million to a historic black church after suing the far-right group over property destruction in a December 2020 episode in which the group members brought down the church’s large Black Lives Matter sign.
The lawsuit, filed by the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church against the Proud Boys’ leadership and limited company, said several members of the group jumped a fence surrounding the church to destroy the sign during a violent clash between supporters and opponents of President Donald J. Trump near the White House. The church is seeking tens of thousands of dollars in damages to replace the sign and to cover the cost of increased security.
Judge Neal E. Kravitz of the District of Columbia Superior Court’s ruling was a default judgment issued after defendants, including Enrique Tarrio, Joseph R. Biggs, Ethan Nordean, Jeremy Bertino, John Turano and over a dozen unknown did not appear in court.
The additional $1 million awarded in punitive damages « represents an amount the court found appropriate both to punish the Proud Boys for what they did and to dissuade them from ever doing it again, » said Arthur Ago of the Lawyers’ Committee on Proud Boys. civil rights under the Law in a telephone interview on Saturday. The committee represented the church.
Mr Ago added that the court recognized the Proud Boys’ « white supremacist orientation » and that their actions were « motivated by that orientation ».
Members of the Proud Boys engaged in « acts of terror and vandalism of church property in an effort to intimidate the church and silence its support for racial justice, » the lawsuit said. They also stole and set fire to Black Lives Matter signs from a nearby church, she said.
In his ruling, Judge Kravitz called their conduct « heinous and blatantly racist. »
Reverend William H. Lamar IV, pastor of the church, said his leadership unanimously supported taking legal action after the incident. The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church is located a few blocks from the White House and is part of the first independent Protestant denomination founded by blacks.
Mr Tarrio, former Proud Boys leader Mr Biggs and Mr Nordean were also among the members convicted of seditious conspiracy in May for plotting to keep Mr Trump in power after the 2020 election by leading a violent mob in attacking the Capitol on January 6, 2021, weeks after the attack on the church. They have all been in custody since their arrests.
In December 2020, members « broke the zip ties that held the sign in place, tore it down, threw it on the ground and trampled it as they cheered loudly, » Judge Kravitz wrote in the order.
He added that the group has « incited and committed acts of violence against members of the Black and African-American communities » and has « victimized women, Muslims, Jews, immigrants and other historically marginalized people. »
Judge Kravitz barred the defendants from coming within 100 yards of the church for five years and making threats or defamatory comments against it or its pastor.
Attorneys for most of the defendants either did not immediately respond to requests for comment or refused to do so.
« I doubt the church will see a dime, » Norm Pattis, Mr. Biggs’ attorney, said in an email. « None of the defendants appeared to contest the case, » he added. « I don’t think anyone is losing sleep over this. »
The plaintiff’s attorneys said they plan to investigate the defendants’ finances to ensure they comply with the order.
In 2021, Mr. Tarrio was sentenced to more than five months jailed for setting fire to the Black Lives Matter banner taken from the Asbury United Methodist Church, near the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church. At the time, he apologized for his actions in court and called them a « grave mistake. »
The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church replaced its sign after it was destroyed, Lamar said. It will celebrate its 185th year on Sunday.
« We refuse to live in a nation where that kind of violence has the final say, » he said in a telephone interview on Saturday. « We will never shut up. »